Despite at least two revisions in some previous reports that made Thursday morning's news of a 184 Bcf draw for the week ending Dec. 17 feel more like a 193 Bcf draw to the market, natural gas futures traders remained largely unimpressed. Trading a shortened session Thursday ahead of the long Christmas holiday weekend, the January contract recorded a $4.052 to $4.174 range before closing at $4.083, down 6.9 cents from Wednesday's finish, but 1.7 cents higher than the previous week's close.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Thursday morning that due to the resubmission of data from one or more respondents, stocks for the weeks ending Nov. 12 through Dec. 3 were revised downward "between 8 and 9 Bcf."
Heading into the 10:30 a.m. EST report, January natural gas futures were trading at $4.091. In the minute that immediately followed, the prompt-month contract shot to a low of $4.052 and a high of $4.174 as traders digested the revised data. Despite the revision-aided larger than expected withdrawal, futures came back down to trade at $4.090 as of 11 a.m. EST.
"The combined 184 Bcf net withdrawal for the week ended Dec. 17 plus the downward revision of 9 Bcf to the prior week's tally makes storage 193 Bcf less than where the market thought it was last week, a clearly bullish result," said Tim Evans, an analyst with Citi Futures Perspective in New York. "The drop may also imply a bit tighter market balance that could draw down storage a bit faster, although we'll have to also adjust that for more moderate temperatures in today's weather updates. Overall, though, this was a clearly bullish result."
Heading into the report, most industry watchers were expecting a pull in the high 170s Bcf to mid 180s Bcf. Evans had been expecting a 175 Bcf draw, while a Reuters survey of 25 industry players produced a 166-192 Bcf withdrawal range with an average expectation that storage became lighter by 179 Bcf. Bentek Energy was projecting a 183 Bcf withdrawal.
The draw was much larger than both last year's date-adjusted 172 Bcf draw and the 136 Bcf five-year average pull.
Due to the draw and the downward revision, working gas in storage stood at 3,368 Bcf as of Dec. 17, according to EIA estimates. Stocks are now 56 Bcf less than last year at this time and 264 Bcf above the five-year average of 3,104 Bcf. For the week, the East Region pulled 117 Bcf while the Producing and West regions removed 56 Bcf and 11 Bcf, respectively.
At this time last year storage stood at 3,424 Bcf, just under the current 3,368 Bcf, and the nation was being pummeled by brutal cold and snow. From Dec. 3, 2009 to Jan. 7, 2010 spot natural gas rose from $4.432 to $6.108, driven in large part by healthy December storage pulls. Bulls would no doubt like to see a repeat of last year.
Ahead of the report, some analysts said they wouldn't be too surprised if a build in the mid-180s Bcf failed to spark a rally. Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates said Thursday morning that "even an increase [withdrawal] as large as 185 Bcf may not prompt much of an upside price response as the money managers and hedge funds may seize on any initial upside reactions as a fresh selling opportunity."
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